Whether you’re passing time in a swimming pool or hanging out on the beach, swimming can be great for your physical and mental health. Your skin, on the other hand, may need a little extra help adapting to aquatic life. While it’s not uncommon to experience a little dryness or itchiness after swimming, more intense skin woes can happen, too—especially if you’re acne-prone or have sensitive skin. Thankfully, being a little proactive about your skincare routine can help you avoid unwanted side effects of time in the water:
Rinse off. A quick shower after your swim helps clean your skin of any chemicals from the pool. Rinsing in lukewarm or room-temperature water is the most soothing for your skin—so although hot, steamy post-workout showers or jacuzzi soaks might feel relaxing, they’re typically not the best option for your skin’s health.¹
Change out of your suit. Bring a clean change of clothes to your swim. A wet, tight-fitting bathing suit rubs against your skin, and this damp friction may lead to irritation and breakouts.²
Wear sunscreen. Sunscreen isn’t just for the beach! Consistent sun protection is the key to your skin’s overall health. If you’re in the water, wear water-resistant sunscreen and reapply early and often.³
These simple tips work for all swimmers, whether you’re hitting the lap pool or the beach. Hungry for more? We scoured our dermatology sources for answers to these FAQs about skincare for swimmers.
Chlorine can lead to dilution of your skin’s sebum—which is a fancy way of saying that it can strip your skin of its natural protective oils. This can lead to moisture loss, which can cause dry, itchy skin.⁴ So if you’ve ever felt dry skin after swimming in a pool, you can blame the chlorine.
Don ’t forget that you can protect your skin from chlorine with a little before-swimming skincare. All you need is a good moisturizer. Curology’s dermatologist providers often recommend pure petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) because it’s safe for sensitive, acne-prone skin. Plus, it’s an occlusive moisturizer, which means it protects while helping to prevent water loss from the skin⁵—so your skin feels less dry once you’re out of the pool later.
If you want to avoid dry, itchy skin after swimming in a chlorinated pool, we recommend washing up after with a gentle soap that’s free of pore-clogging or irritating ingredients, like the Curology acne body wash. Some lotions and soaps claim to neutralize chlorine, which is great—in theory. In some pool filtration systems, two forms of vitamin C (ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate) are used to neutralize chlorine.⁶ There’s no medical evidence that using skincare products with these ingredients will neutralize chlorine, but we’re looking forward to future research! For now, a helpful tip is to rinse until you can’t smell chlorine on your skin.
Yes and no. Seawater doesn’t have magic healing properties—as much as it might have a mentally therapeutic effect. The ocean is home to many living things, and it’s not all narwhals and mermaids. Unfortunately, some sea creatures like to mess with our skin. (We’re looking at you, thimble jellyfish.⁷) If you come into contact with a skin-sabotaging microorganism while swimming in the water, you could get a rash. Freshwater swimmers aren’t off the hook, either. Lakes can be home to microscopic water babies (larvae) that can cause swimmer’s itch.⁸ Thankfully, peaceful coexistence is possible. Just rinse off as soon as you can and change out of that wet swimsuit.
Post-swimming rashes may be a form of contact dermatitis, either from irritation or an allergy. Dr. Julie Akiko Gladsjo, a board-certified dermatologist at Curology says, “If you do get a rash after swimming, a non-sedating antihistamine may help. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can also provide relief. If you’re experiencing anything more than mild discomfort, check in with a medical provider.”
Moisturize regularly. Chlorine can dry out your skin, so hydration is key. Applying a rich moisturizer will help keep your skin from becoming parched after the pool.
Go fragrance-free. When it comes to irritated skin, products with added fragrance can often make matters worse. Look for skincare and makeup products that are labeled fragrance-free.
Don’t pop. While breakouts that arise from too much chlorine exposure are frustrating, picking at or popping your blemishes can push bacteria deeper into the skin and cause more inflammation.⁹
Use gentle cleansers. Harsh cleansers can dry out and irritate your skin. Instead, opt for a gentle cleanser that will help wash away the chlorine without stripping your skin of any more of its natural oil.
Use a non-comedogenic sunscreen. When you opt for a non-comedogenic sunscreen (read: a sunscreen that’s designed to not clog your pores), you can help your skin to look and feel great. Some common ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can clog pores or irritate sensitive skin (yes, even if the label says a product is “non-comedogenic” or “gentle”). Find out which ingredients can potentially clog pores, and you can make better decisions about what products are right for your unique skincare needs.
Showing your skin some love has never been easier, thanks to Curology—and you can get your first month free.* Curology members are paired with a medical provider licensed to practice in their state. They’ll prescribe you a custom cream with a mix of three active ingredients to help treat skin woes like acne, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging. Get dermatologist-designed skincare delivered right to your door. You can also complete your routine with our other gentle, non-clogging skincare products. Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling for your first box. Cancel any time or pick the plan that works for you—no matter what, Curology’s got your back.
Chlorine can lead to dilution of your skin’s sebum—which is a fancy way of saying that it can strip your skin of its natural protective oils. This can lead to moisture loss, which can cause dry, itchy skin.
To avoid dry, itchy skin after swimming in a chlorinated pool, we recommend washing up with a gentle soap that’s free of pore-clogging or irritating ingredients, like the Curology acne body wash. A helpful tip is to rinse until you can’t smell chlorine on your skin.
Yes and no. If you come into contact with a skin-sabotaging microorganism while swimming in the water, you could get a rash. Lakes can be home to microscopic water babies (larvae) that can cause swimmer’s itch. Just rinse off as soon as you can and change out of that wet swimsuit.
A non-sedating antihistamine may help. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can also provide relief. If you’re experiencing anything more than mild discomfort, check in with a medical provider.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Dry skin: Symptoms and causes. (2022 January 25).
Mills, O H Jr, and A Kligman. Acne mechanica. Archives of dermatology.( April 1975):
Food and Drug Administration. Current status of the sunscreen regulation in the United States: 2011 Food and Drug Administration’s final rule on labeling and effectiveness testing. (December 2012).
Freiman, Anatoli et al. Sports dermatology part 2: swimming and other aquatic sports. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal. (2004, November 23).
Ghadially, R., Halkier-Sorensen, L., & Elias, P. M. Effects of petrolatum on stratum corneum structure and function. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (March 1992).
Land B. Using Vitamin C to neutralize chlorine in water systems. (April 2005)
THERESA MACHEMER. What’s Giving Some Beach Goers Rash? Get the Facts. National Geographic. ( 2018, June 28).
Centers for Disease Control. Swimmers Itch FAQs. (2020, September 2).
American Academy of Dermatology. Pimple Popping: Why only a dermatologist should do it. (n.d.).
This article was originally published on June 12, 2020, and updated on June 20, 2022.
*Subject to consultation. Subscription required.
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC